In Hindu iconography, snakes often represent divinity, and the legend of the snake goddess Manasa Mangala is especially popular in West Bengal. For Kalam Patua (India b.1962), the snake charmer also has a personal and historical dimension — his ancestors were patua or scroll artists, who often practised alternative trades to supplement their incomes, making clay idols (as did his uncle and aunt), performing magic tricks, making fireworks and snake charming.

Snake charmer playfully explores sexual attraction and union, Patua consciously mixes religious symbols with earthly ones in this painting. The male figure has the blue skin of Krishna, and the delicately painted sky with its stylised clouds also suggest divinity, contrasting with the balding, earthly figure who is trying to seduce the posing beauty.

Born into the Patua community of scroll painters and storytellers, Kalam Patua is a self-taught contemporary exponent of Kalighat painting, which draws on conventions from West Bengal scrolls and Indian miniature painting. A postmaster in a rural post office in West Bengal, he is one of the few artists painting in this style today.

Patua’s unique watercolours contain elements of autobiography and myth, and reflect on social issues and current news events. Topics include the changing nature of Indian society; dowry deaths and violence against women. He also paints light, humorous works, including a series about working in the postal system.

Exhibited in 'The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art' (APT8) | 21 Nov 2015 – 10 Apr 2016


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